Here’s A Genuine American Hero


I am re-posting this whole open letter in CNN from the restaurateur in Tucson who had the sign above which went viral:

On Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer rightly vetoed the state bill that would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay people on religious grounds. I had a bet with a friend that she wouldn’t sign it — and wonder why it took her so long. She won’t take a hit to the pocketbook — she’s too savvy for that.

In the days leading up to this, I put a sign in the window of my pizzeria that said: “We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators.” The reaction was vastly and overwhelmingly positive, with only a few people telling me they wouldn’t ever eat at my restaurant again. Mainly, we have received many, many messages of support; phone calls, e-mails and texts, from people who live in Tucson, across the state and even from outside the United States.

The sign is part of a tradition we have. When I moved into the supposedly cursed restaurant space on Broadway in Tucson, Arizona, 15 years ago, I found a box of letters — the kind you put on a marquee sign out front. By the end of the day, I had a message on the sign. We’ve been changing it every day since. I am often told people plan their routes to see what we have to say each day — even if just for a chuckle.

Sometimes we put up song lyrics, or a snarky comment about someone in the news, such as Anthony Weiner. One day we put up “Free Pussy Riot.” Some people get their knickers in a twist about our messages, but we do it for ourselves as much as anything.

Then I learned that the state Senate once again passed an appalling bill that attempted to save me from my fellow Arizonans. I thought, “Oh no, not again.” If anything seemed ripe for parody, this was it.

It was irresistible. I instantly typed a comment on my Facebook page, saying that the busybodies in the capital of Phoenix were not allowed to come in and sit at my table. Minutes later, one of my followers supplied the sign that so eloquently expressed my viewpoint. I laminated it, and by that afternoon it was on my doors.

Since then, a lot of similar signs showed up in the windows of Tucson businesses saying “We reserve the right to serve anybody.” Tucson is a little more liberal than Maricopa County and Phoenix: We’re a university town. People here just don’t care about things like that. At restaurants, we just serve you and smile.

Arizona businesses have already been hurt by reactionary positions, such as our anti-immigration laws. The state has been boycotted before — and it hurts because we depend a lot on tourism.

As well as hurting small businesses, plenty of large companies have reconsidered locating here, saying, “We’ll take our dollars elsewhere.” One business owner, reacting to this legislation, even told me: “Arizona is the American Uganda” — where they put gay people in jail. We have so much poverty, terrible roads, some unbelievably bad schools — and this bill is what our legislators wasted their time on.

Many Americans think they know what living on the border is like. But Tucson was long a part of Mexico until the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Many of our old Indian, Mexican, Chinese and Anglo families here have histories that go back long before Arizona was even a territory of the United States. And as in much of the West, a live-and-let-live philosophy pervades our lives here in a real and tangible way.

This century will be one of expanding civil rights for individuals. But Prohibition, Jim Crow, Indian schools — where they tried to make Native American children abandon their identities — and anti-Chinese immigration laws are not so far in the past that we can safely ignore them. They were wrong, just like discrimination against gay people is wrong.

This legislation was ostensibly trying to protect religious freedom. A lot of Christian groups feel like they’re being persecuted by our culture, and that is really what underlies this bill. But if they feel like they’re being persecuted, they should try being gay for a little while.

I cannot condone discrimination against one group of people. Regardless of the kind intentions of the lawmakers to the north of Tucson that were trying to make sure I have freedom of religion, I already have it. This bill was gratuitous as well as ridiculous. I can already refuse service to anyone — and that includes any one of those several dozen Arizonans who aren’t representing my views in Phoenix.

In most of America, gay-bashing has jumped the shark, and what is known as the arc of history is clearly moving in one direction, but I often wonder if the T portion of the LGBT equation is going to be left behind. And why can’t we use this experience as a lesson for why we shouldn’t discriminate against anyone? Regardless, I love this guy and if I lived in Arizona I would frequent his joint. Although at this point I probably wouldn’t eat anything there besides a salad. Actually caught myself walking through the grocery today and was in the cookie aisle and looked at some of that crap and just thought “How fucking gross. I wouldn’t feed that shit to my enemies.”

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53 replies
  1. 1
    srv says:

    How fucking gross. I wouldn’t feed that shit to my enemies

    What if Cookie Monster was transgendered?

  2. 2
    trollhattan says:

    Truly believe The Youngs don’t have interest or the tolerance for continuing this nonsense.The holdouts for bigotry will hang on for a good while, but I won’t be sad when the time comes we’re asking ourselves why this was such a big deal.

  3. 3
    NotMax says:

    Had they been available at the time, would Jesus have recommended Oreos and chocolate milk instead of wafers and wine?

  4. 4
    Debbie(aussie) says:

    Wonderful sign, great letter. Hope some of the positive feedback he got was from Aus.

    We are having a really tuff time at the moment. We voted out a government that were frustrating, to say the least, for a bunch of wanna-be teahaddis.

  5. 5
    karen marie says:

    Make your own cookies. One of my recent favorites is macaroons. I drizzle them with tempered bittersweet chocolate.

  6. 6
    raven says:

    There was a pipeline from Champaign-Urbana to Tucson in the early 70’s and the anchor was a pizza joint on Mill. One of my best buddies is still there and but, sadly, it’s been a couple of years since we’ve been out there.

  7. 7
    NotMax says:


    I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
    Tehachapi to Tonopah

    Seatrain’s version.

    Can’t come up with a song with Champaign-Urbana in the lyrics off the top o’ the noggin.

  8. 8
    JGabriel says:

    John Cole @ Top:

    Actually caught myself walking through the grocery today and was in the cookie aisle and looked at some of that crap and just thought “How fucking gross. I wouldn’t feed that shit to my enemies.”

    Shorter John Cole to Balloon-Juice Commenters:

    No Cookies For You!


  9. 9
    raven says:


    A bunch of random pictures set to the song “Champaign, Illinois” as sung by Carl Perkins. Co-written by Carl and Bob Dylan in 1969

    Of course Willin was one of our main tunes. My old buddy Fuzzy sang it when he was with Appaloosa!

  10. 10
    NotMax says:


    Was confident you’d come up with a reference. Thanks.

    Still remember someone once innocently asking why anyone would sing about wanting “wheat, rice and lime.”

  11. 11
    raven says:


    GTOs member Pamela Des Barres has claimed that George was fired by the abstemious Zappa for smoking marijuana, while he claimed at a 1975 Little Feat concert that he was fired because he “wrote a song [“Willin'”] about dope.

  12. 12
    Cermet says:

    Cookies often have two issues: trans-fat and high fructose corn sweeter. How either were ever considered safe without long term testing proves that money trumps anything. Which is what, helpfully, is pushing some thugs toward civil rights for gay and others; interesting how that issue is, for once, being helpful.

  13. 13
    muricafukyea says:

    Has republican sympathizer libertarian curious wr0ng way Cole started blowing wet kisses to Brewer yet?

    Has the doofus even managed to get his car out of the fuking field yet?

  14. 14
    JPL says:

    The pizza parlor owner sounds like a decent person and a smart business man. In the olden days, this was the norm.

  15. 15
    Raven says:

    Held in a cavernous convention center, it featured blues and soul royalty like Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Sam Moore, Carla Thomas, Percy Sledge and Dr. John. Yet the highlight was when President George H. W. Bush — sworn in just a day before — hammed it up onstage with Lee Atwater, his campaign manager, both with guitars in their hands and smiles on their faces.

  16. 16
    Raven says:

    Sorry, NYT article.

  17. 17
    Raven says:

    I went to Koko and said, ‘These awful people who I hate and think are a bunch of racists want you to come and perform at an inaugural ball,’ ” Mr. Iglauer said. “And she said, ‘I want to play for a president.’ ”
    As the guitarist Joe Louis Walker put it, “It’s an honor for the blues to go all the way from the outhouse to the White House, no matter who the president is.

  18. 18
    TR says:


    You should ask the nurses to increase your Thorazine levels.

  19. 19
    IowaOldLady says:

    @karen marie: That sounds wonderful.

    Mark Bittman says if you eat only things you make, you’ll be healthier and likely lose weight.

  20. 20
    jon says:

    If you ever come to Tucson, I’ll buy you that salad if you can handle the great service, cozy atmosphere, and watching me enjoy great pizza.

    As for the T in LGBT, some of the same state legislators proposed a bill that would force such persons to use the “correct” toilets. Possibly force some in skirts to use urinals, I figure. You know, because California. There are protections against gender discrimination in the laws of Sedona, Tucson, and even Phoenix (which is a big liberal city in a very conservative county and is too often used as shorthand for Maricopa County by us in Tucson.) SB1062 would have made things harder for those who come to Tucson for the purpose of transitioning physically, which is something our hospitals have been doing since the 80s if not earlier.

    So remember this when you hear the proponents of such laws say it’s just for clarification of religious liberty: they are lying. SB1062 would have made firing a temperature employee or treating an FTM customer like carp possible in some parts of Arizona where it’s not legal now. But did they sue the City of Tucson or other places to get “religious liberty” back? No. In fact, the existence of these laws wasn’t even cited by Al Melvin as the reason for the bill’s necessity when asked why by Anderson Cooper. Funny they couldn’t find any examples of having to serve cupcakes or take photos from those three cities with gender protection laws.

  21. 21
    beltane says:

    Once you get in the habit of baking your own cookies, cakes, pies, etc., the stuff from the supermarket becomes gross and unappetizing.

  22. 22
    Cervantes says:

    @John Cole:

    Here’s A Genuine American Hero



    The pizza parlor owner sounds like a decent person and a smart business man. In the olden days, this was the norm.

    Not only is he a “Genuine American Hero,” a “decent person,” a “smart business man,” he’s an excellent writer as well — and is named Rocco DiGrazia. He describes himself as a “failed anthropologist and thwarted musician, but a decent father and passable pizzaiolo.”

    One thing I know from his open letter: as an anthropologist, he has not “failed” in any meaningful sense.

    Incidentally, his restaurant is Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, Tucson, AZ.

  23. 23
    jon says:

    Arizona has the odd status of being the only state where the voters have done these two things:

    1. Vote in a referendum to have an MLKjr holiday.
    2. Vote down a same-sex marriage ban, as happened in 2006. (Of course one did pass in 2008, so it’s not that big a deal.)

    We’re much better than our legislature on most issues, just like everybody else.

  24. 24
    MikeJ says:


    Vote in a referendum to have an MLKjr holiday.

    They also voted against it in 1990. They didn’t vote for it until the Super Bowl got taken away.

  25. 25
    Cassidy says:

    He’ll never be an Edward Snowden or Glenn Greenwald, though. Those are real heroes.

  26. 26
    E. says:

    I am a Tucsonan and was proud to see his piece published on CNN, but I was particularly pleased to see him remind everyone that Tucson was a Mexican city until the Gadsden Purchase, and that a great many families here pre-date Gadsden. As for the politics, Tucson is a liberal town with an army of imbeciles up north in Maricopa County. Like so many other university towns in the West and elsewhere. We should have a Tucson BJ Meetup at Rocco’s sometime!

  27. 27
    Schlemizel says:

    Here is an interesting story that somehow is a mash up of our patrons most recent obsession and this particular thread
    Guy eats only pizza for every meal for 25 years

  28. 28
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @jon: They may not have done #1, but Minnesota voted down a same-sex-marriage ban in 2012, and the effort led to actually legalizing same-sex marriage by popular vote not long afterward.

    For a long time, opponents could say that same-sex marriage had never won a referendum vote, and there was an idea that there was a Bradley-like effect operating, in which support for gay rights was considered socially desirable and polled well, but people wouldn’t actually vote that way. But then there was a wave of referendum wins in different states.

  29. 29
    Botsplainer says:

    Surprise for goldbugs – the benchmarks are manipulated.

  30. 30
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @E.: Do I detect a volunteer to head one up?

  31. 31
    Schlemizel says:

    @Matt McIrvin:
    The law of unintended consequences. The goopers had relied on these sort of hate referendums to drive mouth-breathing morans to the polls and it worked for them for a long time. the last one, that one you mention in 2012, undid them. The sea change was subtle & they missed it. It would be unfair to not include the crappy job little TImmy Pawlenty did for 8 years and the animosity built up over the mismanagement of the state by his buddies but that anti-equality measure was sort of the last straw for a lot of people who don’t really pay attention but vote their emotions. It was a sweep for the DFL who now control the House, Senate and Governorship.

    It would be nice to think this would lead to the death of these sorts of vote getting schemes but probably not.

  32. 32
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Oh get over yourselves already! The only reason that happened is because Minnesota is full of nice, sane people, not like real Amerika.

  33. 33
    RSA says:


    They also voted against [the MLK holiday] in 1990.

    Kevin Drum recently posted a comparison of social attitudes toward gay marriage and interracial marriage, based on Gallup polls. What jumped out at me in the data was that a majority of white Americans didn’t approve of “black-white marriage” until 1996. Holy shit. We sometimes make fun of the South’s retrograde attitudes, but this was some slow nationwide movement.

  34. 34
    auntie beak says:

    tucson is a beautiful place, but it’s in arizona, which kind of makes it generally icky. which is too bad. the hubs and i gave serious thought to moving to tucson at one point, but everything i’ve heard and read about arizona since has made me kind of glad we abandoned that plan.

    and john, good rule of thumb for grocery shopping: shop the perimeter of the store, stay away from the inside aisles. that’s where most of the crap is.

  35. 35
    piratedan says:

    @E.: I”d be up for that E, good place to pick imho… know that we have a few Tucsonans here, might even get a Phoenician to drop by.

  36. 36
    Cervantes says:


    We should have a Tucson BJ Meetup at Rocco’s sometime!

    That’s a good idea.

  37. 37
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Not a hero. Just a decent person, which is honorable enough.

  38. 38
    Cervantes says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I suspect he’s a hero to his kids.

    Or, at least, I hope he is!

  39. 39
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cervantes: That is fair, but I doubt he is a hero to his valet.

  40. 40
    GHayduke (formerly lojasmo) says:

    @auntie beak:

    and john, good rule of thumb for grocery shopping: shop the perimeter of the store, stay away from the inside aisles. that’s where most of the crap is.

    Absolutely. As an aside, after several years of avoiding most grains, I can splurge on a pizza once every few months without any adverse consequences.

  41. 41
    JCT says:

    John – Mark Bittman’s “Vegan Before Six” might be worth a read. Got my curmudgeonly husband to try it and his doc was literally gushing over his numbers the last time he saw him.

    I drive by Rocco’s every day on my way to work – haven’t tried it yet (waiting for Bianco to finally open) but he sounds like a serious Tucson guy, some really great people here.

  42. 42
    Mnemosyne says:

    Actually caught myself walking through the grocery today and was in the cookie aisle and looked at some of that crap and just thought “How fucking gross. I wouldn’t feed that shit to my enemies.”

    Still in the honeymoon period, I see. ;-)

    You will eventually want a cookie, and my best advice when that happens is to go to a good bakery in town and buy one (1) cookie. Don’t buy a whole package of Oreos and tell yourself you’ll only eat a few, because you will go to town on the whole package and then feel horrible (physically and psychologically) afterwards. The advice is the same for other currently “forbidden” foods — treat yourself to a small portion of the best version you can find rather than turning to junky versions that will only make you feel like crap afterwards. That way, you can satisfy the itch without feeling as though you’ve failed your new way of eating and may as well throw the whole thing over and go back to eating the old way because why try to change anything if you’re just going to fail?

    (IOW — been there, done that, do as I say and not what I did.)

  43. 43
    jon says:

    @MikeJ: Arizona is still the only place to have that holiday implemented by the voters. It’s kind of a shame that it had to come to that, but it’s something to show we’re not all jerkwads.

  44. 44
    divF says:

    Re: cookies. Yes, Oreos and their ilk are made of vile toxins. If you must have a cookie or something else sweet, go to a local bakery whose ingredients you trust. Here in the Bay Area, the Cheese Board and the Arizmendi bakeries (among others) have their baking facilities visible to the sales areas, so you really know what you’re getting.

    As for Tuscon and music, don’t forget Tuscon’s own Linda Ronstadt. A stunning voice now sadly lost to us, combined with a wonderful breadth of appreciation of all our musical cultures.

  45. 45
    jon says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Forgot about that one, but Minnesota (the only other state I lived in) is a bit further ahead of Arizona in the category of progressive government. I think Maryland might have done it, too. But again, it shows that even bigotry had its limits here.

  46. 46
    Cassidy says:

    I will be eating Oreos today in your honor.

  47. 47
    Jane2 says:

    @Debbie(aussie): I watch Clarke and Dawe, and Abbott and crew appear to be crazy *and* incompetent…great candidates for the US Tea Party.

  48. 48
    celticdragonchick says:

    In most of America, gay-bashing has jumped the shark, and what is known as the arc of history is clearly moving in one direction, but I often wonder if the T portion of the LGBT equation is going to be left behind.

    Rod Dreher et al of course still delight in mocking us, but all things considered, I think the trans community is starting to make progress.

  49. 49
    Suzanne says:

    @piratedan: I’ll come down from Phoenix for a meetup! I’m a Wildcat, so it kinda counts.

  50. 50
    KS in MA says:

    @NotMax: “I get no kick from Champaign-Urbana …” ?

  51. 51
    Cervantes says:

    @KS in MA: An excellent answer to the challenge!

    (The original referred to cocaine rather than champagne — but still, an excellent answer!)

  52. 52
    DramaMama says:

    Love the Tucson meetup at Rocco’s idea. Count me in.

  53. 53
    cckids says:


    Mark Bittman says if you eat only things you make, you’ll be healthier and likely lose weight.

    Mark Bittman apparently doesn’t know how awesome my homemade cinnamon rolls are :)

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